Ⅲ。 William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was the greatest writer of plays who ever lived. His friend & fellow playwright Ben Jonson said that Shakespeare was "not of an age but for all time." The 18th-century English essayist Samuel Johnson described his work as "the mirror of life." The 19th-century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge spoke of "myriad-minded Shakespeare." The 20th-century English dramatist George Bernard Shaw stressed his "enormous power over language."
His Life & Career
The exact date of Shakespeare’s birth is not known， but his baptism was recorded on April 26， 1564， in the parish register of Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-on-Avon. Since it was customary to baptize infants within two or three days of birth， April 23 is regarded as a reasonable birth date. It is also the date on which he died in 1616. Generally， his dramatic career is divided into 4 periods.
The First Period （1590-1594）-five historical plays & four comedies：
Henry Ⅵ， part Ⅰ （1590）
Henry Ⅵ， part Ⅱ （1590）
Henry Ⅵ， part Ⅲ （1591）
Richard Ⅲ （1592）
Titus Andronicus （1593）
The Comedy of Errors （1592）
The Two Gentlemen of Verona （1594）
The Taming of the Shrew （1593）
Love’s Labor’s Lost （1594）
The Second Period （1595-1600）-five historical plays， six comedies & two tragedies：Richard Ⅱ （1595）
King John （1596）
Henry Ⅳ， Part Ⅰ & Part Ⅱ（1597）
Henry V （1598）
A Midsummer Night’s Dream （1595）
The Merchant of Venice （1596）
Much Ado About Nothing （1598）
As You Like It （1599）
Twelfth Night （1600）
The Merry Wives of Winsor （1598）
Romeo & Juliet （1595）
Julius Caesar （1599）
The Third Period （1601-1609）-Seven tragedies & two dark comedies：
Antony & Cleopatra
Troilus & Cressida
All’s Well That Ends Well
Measure for Measure
The Fourth Period （1609-1612）-Romantic tragic-comedies & two plays：
The Winte’s Tale
The Two Noble Kinsmen
Shakespeare’s authentic non-dramatic poetry consists of two long narrative poems： Venus & Adonis & The Rape of Lucrece & his sequence of 154 sonnets.
1） Contributions to language
Many words and commonly used phrases have been added to everyday English vocabulary through their appearance in Shakespeare’s works.
2） Effects on literature
Shakespeare’s plays & poetry have had a pervasive influence on world literature. Most of the great literary figures of the world have been inspired & stimulated by his achievement.
On the whole， however， Shakespeare’s contribution has been to the language & spirit of later writing rather than to its form. References & parallels to Shakespeare’s phraseology have occurred in literature since the 16th century. Perhaps the greatest inspiration to subsequent authors has been Shakespeare’s capacity to depict life in all its complexity & to illuminate man’s character & destiny.
His Major Works
A. The Merchant of Venice Theme：
to praise the friendship between Antonio & Bassanio， to idealize Portia as a heroine of great beauty， wit & loyalty， & to expose the insatiable greed & brutality of the Jew. Plot： The play has a double plot （P39）
Hamlet is generally regarded as Shakespeare’s most popular play on the stage， for it has the qualities of a "blood-and-thunder" thriller & a philosophical exploration of life & death. And the timeless appeal of this mighty drama lies in its combination of intrigue， emotional conflict & searching philosophic melancholy.
The play opens with Hamlet， Prince of Denmark， appearing in a mood of world-weariness occasioned by his father’s recent death & by his mother’s hasty remarriage with Claudius， his father’s brother. While encountering his father’s ghost， Hamlet is informed that Claudius has murdered his father & then taken over both his father’s throne & widow. This， Hamlet， is urged by the ghost to seek revenge for his father’s "foul & most unnatural murder." Trapped in a nightmare world of spying， testing & plotting， & apparently bearing the intolerable burden of the duty to revenge his father’s death， Hamlet is obliged to inhabit a shadow world， to live suspended between fact & fiction， language & action. His life is one of constant role-playing， examining the nature of action only to deny its possibility， for he is too sophisticated to degrade his nature to the conventional role of a stage revenger. By characterizing Hamlet， Shakespeare successfully makes a philosophical exploration of life & death.
C. The Tempest
The Tempest， an elaborate & fantastic story， is known as the best of his final romances. The characters are rather allegorical & the subject full of suggestion. The humanly impossible events can be seen occurring everywhere， in the play. The play wright resorts to the supernatural atmosphere & to the dreams to solve the conflict. To Shakespeare， the whole life is no more than a dream. Thus， The Tempest is a typical example of his pessimistic view towards human life & society in his late years.
The first 126 sonnets are apparently addressed to a handsome young nobleman， presumably the author’s patron. The poems express the writer’s selfless but not entirely uncritical devotion to the young man.
Twenty of the sonnets are about a young woman characterized as a " dark lady，" whom the poet distrust but cannot resist. The poems addressed directly to her are perhaps the most remarkable in the sequence because their unsentimental tone is unlike that of traditional love sonnets.
A philosophical theme that appears in many of the sonnets is that of time as the destroyer of all mortal things. Also expressed in the poems is the author’s disillusionment with the false ness of earthly life.
The form of the poems is the English Variation of the traditional Italian， or Petrarchan， sonnet， Shakespeare’s sonnets have three quatrains， or groups of four lines， & a final couplet. Their rhyme scheme is abab， cdcd， efef， gg. A theme is developed & elaborated in the quatrains， & a concluding thought is presented in the couplet.
B. Other poems
Venus & Adonis， in which Shakespeare made his first bid for literary patronage & fame， is a conventional Elizabethan narrative poem. Its mythological story， taken from Ovids Metamorphoses， tells of the passionate love goddess who woos the reluctant youth Adonis. The Rape of Lucrece， another narrative of passion， is based on the semi historical story of the rape of a chaste Roman matron by Tarquin， son of the king of Rome.
His Major Theme
1） Shakespeare is against religious persecution & racial discrimination， against social inequality & the corrupting influence of gold & money.
2） He was a humanist of the time & accepted the Renaissance views on literature.
His Literary Achievements
His major characters are neither merely individual ones nor type ones； they are individuals representing certain types. Each character has his or her own personalities； meanwhile， they may share features with others. The soliloquies in his plays fully reveal the inner conflict of his characters. Shakespeare also portrays his characters in pairs. Contrasts are frequently used to bring vividness to his characters.
The women in the plays are vivid creations， each differing from the others. Shakespeare was fond of portraying "mocking wenches，" such as Kate of the Taming of the Shrew， Rosaline of Love’s Labor’s Lost， & Beatrice of Much Ado About Nothing， but he was equally adept at creating gentle & innocent women， such as Ophelia in Hamlet， Desdemona in Othello， & Cordelia in King Lear. His female characters also include the treacherous Goneril & Regan， the iron-willed Lady Macbeth， the witty & resourceful Portia， the tender & loyal Juliet， & the alluring Cleopatra.
2） Plot Construction
Shakespeare’s plays are well known for their adroit plot construction. He seldom invents his own plots； instead， he borrows them from some old plays or storybooks， or from ancient Greek & Roman sources. There are usually several threads running through the play， thus providing the story with suspense & apprehension.
In Shakespeare’s time， English grammar & spelling were not yet formalized， so Shakespeare could freely inter charge the various parts of speech， using nouns as adjectives or verbs， adjectives as adverbs， & pronouns as nouns. Such freedom gave his language an extraordinary flexibility， which enabled him to express his thoughts as easily in poetry as in prose.
Most of Shakespeare’s dramatic poetry is in blank verse， or unrhymed iambic pentameter. His bland verse is especially beautiful & mighty. He has an amazing wealth of vocabulary & idiom. His coinage of new words & distortion of the meaning of the old ones also create striking effects on the reader.
1） Sonnet 18
Theme： a profound meditation on the destructive power of time & the eternal beauty brought forth by poetry to the one he loves.
Imagery： a summer’s day-youth
the eye of heaven-the sun
2） The Merchant of Venice
Theme： To praise the friendship between Antonio & Bassanio， to idealize Portia as a heroine of great beauty， wit & loyalty， & to expose the insatiable greed and brutality of the Jew.
This is one part of Hamlet’s most famous monologue. Hamlet， facing the dilemma of action & mind， is hesitating whether he should revenge for his father， which may bring him death， or he should suffer & hide his hatred for his uncle in his deep heart， which may secure his life.